The union representing 850 Surrey RCMP officers says it is far too early to tell how many will apply for the city’s new municipal force as it prepares to hit the streets in 13 months, after getting provincial approval this week.
Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation, said the city’s consultation process for the Surrey Police Department has been opaque, and his members are still a long way from knowing how switching forces would affect their wages, benefits and vacation time.
“We’re looking at a significant amount of time to even get to a point where someone can consider being hired by the Surrey Police Department,” said Sauvé said, whose organization was certified as the RCMP union in 2019 and represents 20,000 officers across Canada.
“You have to appoint your board. That’s a hiring process in and of itself, through the government. Then you have to hire a chief, as a hiring process through that board. Then you have to negotiate a collective agreement.”
The city also needs to establish a police budget and have it approved by council.
Mayor Doug McCallum has promised the municipal force will be running by April 1, 2021. He has estimated that about 60 per cent of the city’s RCMP officers would take jobs with the new department.
“The reason that we will have a lot apply is because their families live here. Surrey is a great place to bring up families, and they want to be in the community that they work in,” McCallum told reporters Thursday.
Sauvé said he couldn’t possibly estimate how many RCMP members hope to transition and doesn’t know how the mayor came to such an “aggressive” number, given that members aren’t certain yet how the change would effect them.
“Right now, no one can tell you what they’re getting into,” he said.
The city has said salary and benefits will be in keeping with other municipal departments, and the collective agreements will also be similar.
In Vancouver, a police constable starts with a probationary salary of $70,154 and earns $100,220 after four years, according to the department’s recruiting site. They start with two weeks paid holidays and reach four weeks by the eighth year. Benefits include medical, dental and membership in the municipal pension plan.
An RCMP constable starts much lower at $53,144 and earns $86,110 after three years. Vacation starts at 15 days a year for the first five years and increases incrementally to 30 days after 23 years of service. Benefits include medical, dental and family health plans, and group life insurance.
Another consideration for Mounties to consider when deciding whether to move to the municipal force is the city’s cost of housing. The benchmark price for a detached home in Surrey in January was $1.053 million. While that is lower than the $1.407 million in east Vancouver, most of the other cities where Mounties can transfer to in Canada have much lower housing costs. Median rent in 2019 for a two-bedroom apartment was $1,171 in Surrey, compared to $1,600 in Vancouver.
The city has said RCMP members will be able to transfer their pension to the municipal pension plan after they are hired. The city’s application for Group 5 membership for its police officers was approved last November. Members have a higher benefit accrual rate, which provides for earlier retirement options.
But Sauvé said the switch will create a convoluted scenario because each officer and employee who switches must have an individualized pension transfer agreement and calculation done. Those who have been paying a lower rate in another plan for years will have to make up the difference when they join the new plan, he added.
With files from Jennifer Saltman and the National Post